Category Archives: New acquisition

An Interpreter’s Gift: Tokens of Sino-British Friendships in the First World War

Among recent donations to the Bodleian Library is a stunning lace edged silk cushion cover, now part of the Weston Library Special Collections under shelf mark MS.Chin.a.25. Delicately embroidered with floral patterns and measuring about two feet long and wide, the piece features a calligraphed dedication in Chinese and, at its centre, a watercolour painting reading “Memories from Péronne” in French.

Bodleian Libraries, MS. Chin a.25

Bodleian Libraries, MS. Chin a.25

It is no coincidence that the name of Péronne should immediately evoke the history of the First World War through its association with the Battle of the Somme. Pictured above (Figure 1), the cushion cover was gifted during the war by Zhang Jiantang, a Chinese interpreter and medical dresser enrolled in the Chinese Labour Corps, to Frederick Jones (1890-1975), Serjeant Shoemaker serving with the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) in France.

In recent years, historians of China and Europe have shed increasing light on the long-forgotten role of an estimated 140,000 Chinese men who were sent to Europe to perform manual and support labour between 1916 and 1920. As the French and British governments were being faced with hefty war casualties and acute manpower shortages, they negotiated agreements to recruit Chinese labourers, who then became enlisted as part of the colonial troops administered by the French Ministry of War, or as part of the Chinese Labour Corps (CLC) under the British Expeditionary Forces. These men performed a variety of tasks including factory, agricultural, building, and demining work, before being sent back to China around 1918-1920. Among them, an estimated four to five hundred were formally enrolled as interpreters, with many more who, through linguistic skills acquired at various stages of their lives, performed translation and interpreting duties on top of other tasks.

Among the latter was Zhang Jiantang, who signed as “dresser and translator at the Chinese hospital in France” on the cushion cover that he presented to Frederick Jones. The embroidered piece was a gift for Serjeant Jones to bring back to his wife, Annie Lydia Durbin, whom he had married in January 1916 during a short permission home to Fulham, London. The inscription in Chinese reads as a powerful testament to the deep friendship that developed between the two men, despite them having known each other for a mere two months, and despite the “far-reaching racial and linguistic differences” which should have separated them.

Wedding picture of Frederick Jones and Annie Lydia Durbin, January 1916. Private family collection, courtesy of Ms. Iris Jones.

Wedding picture of Frederick Jones and Annie Lydia Durbin, January 1916. Private family collection, courtesy of Ms. Iris Jones.

In all likelihood, the mention of “Chinese Hospital” on the dedication should point towards the two men having met at the No. 3 Native Labour General Hospital in Noyelles-sur-Mer, which was set up in April 1917 as the “Chinese Hospital” before being renamed as part of a larger system of native labour hospitals for colonial workers. The Noyelles hospital was by far the largest on the Western Front employing and treating Chinese labourers. However, several other medical institutions did employ Chinese personnel, and records show that Chinese medical assistants were often transferred from Noyelles to other institutions when practical needs arose. In particular, the N°7 Native Labour Hospital in Le Havre did employ a sizeable number of Chinese workers, as well as a Serjeant Jones from RAMC who reported for duty in August 1918 from the neighbouring 52nd stationary hospital.

Hospitals, of course, have been described as a key site which both affirmed and questioned colonial and racist hierarchies during the First World War, as well as perhaps one of its most intimate places of encounter (Maguire 2021). Despite the segregation in place and despite frequent descriptions of Chinese medical staff as “lacking knowledge and discipline” in various war diaries of field hospitals, the amount of care, work, and language skills that went into the creation of such a gift in wartime keep reminding us of the importance of looking beyond Eurocentric administrative archives for writing deeply textured, human sized histories of the First World War.

While the exact geographic origin of the cushion cover cannot be pinpointed yet, working alongside Chinese medical workers undoubtedly left a deep impression on the RAMC Serjeant. His daughter, who turned a hundred and one years old this year, still remembers vividly the deep impression that Chinese stretcher-bearers left on her father, and the soothing words in Mandarin that he picked up from them – words that still soothe her to this day.

Coraline Jortay
Laming Junior Research Fellow
The Queen’s College

Our grateful thanks go to Ms. Iris Jones, Frederick Jones’ daughter, for this wonderful gift to the library.

Sources:
Oral history interview conducted by Dr. Coraline Jortay (Laming Junior Research Fellow, The Queen’s College) with Ms. Iris Jones on 9th October 2022; Jones family papers; UK National Archives WO 95/4115 and WO 372/11.

Further readings on the history of Chinese labourers in the First World War:
Chen San-ching, Huagong yu ouzhan, Taipei: Academia Sinica, 1986.
Dendooven, Dominiek. Asia in Flanders Fields. A Transnational History of Indians and Chinese on the Western Front, 1914-1920. University of Kent, 2018.
James, Gregory. The Chinese Labour Corps:(1916-1920). Hong Kong: Bayview, 2013.
Li Ma. (eds.). Les Travailleurs chinois en France dans la Première Guerre mondiale. Paris: CNRS, 2012.
Xu, Guoqi. Strangers on the Western Front: Chinese Workers in the Great War. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2011.

Further readings on the colonial politics of WWI Hospitals:
Buxton, Hilary ‘Imperial Amnesia: Race, Trauma and Indian Troops in the First World War’, Past & Present, 241 (2018).
Hyson, Samuel and Lester, Alan ‘“British India on Trial”: Brighton Military Hospitals and the Politics of Empire in World War I’, Journal of Historical Geography, 38, 1 (2012).
Anna Maguire, ed., ‘On the Wards: Hospitals and Encounters’, in Contact Zones of the First World War: Cultural Encounters across the British Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2021, 153–76.

The Kingsland Mercury and The Lost Kingdom

One of the undoubted literary gems of the Bodleian Library is Jane Austen’s collection of juvenilia. Self-titled Volume the First, it contains sixteen of Jane’s earliest works including stories and verses, some of which were first written when Jane was as young as eleven or twelve.(1) While Volume the First reminds us that every author began somewhere, it also reminds us of how early or juvenile work can be treasured and preserved by its creators and their families alike, sometimes well beyond the lifetimes of the original intended audience. However, not all of the literary manuscripts at the Bodleian Library were created by world famous names and examples of juvenilia, shown here by two recent acquisitions, are no exception.

The Kingsland Mercury

Around 1854, two children identified as S. Horn and Edward Woodall, living in the Mardol Head neighbourhood in central Shrewsbury, decided to set up their own miniature periodical which they called The Kingsland Mercury. Written by hand on tiny pieces of folded paper and sewn together, four editions and three ‘free’ supplements dating between March and October 1854 have survived in surprisingly pristine condition (with, alas, a few missing pages). The main topic of conversation and commentary was the Crimean War but The Kingsland Mercury also included local and ‘comic’ news alongside stories, poetry, riddles, and letters to the editor, all mirroring the grown up newspapers of the day.

A small handwritten mock up of a newspaperThe Kingsland Mercury Supplement, 9 April 1854, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 18763

One of the letters to the editor gives us a clue that this tiny homemade newspaper was founded sometime before the first surviving issue from March 1854 and also had a far wider circulation than just its immediate creators. The letter writer complained that:

…really the time which some of the Subscribers of the Kingsland Mercury keep that paper is almost intolerable. Instead of reading it at the first opportunity they have, they keep it in their pockets sometimes for a day or more. Now this is too bad, & it shews that they don’t care… when those whose names are last on the list get it.

It is also likely that there were other contributors to the paper beyond the named editors due to requests from the editors for ‘original pieces on any interesting subject’ and also the occasional change in handwriting.(2)

The emphasis on the Crimean War demonstrates an awareness by the child-editors of a world beyond their own immediate environs. This awareness is also demonstrated by the inclusion of an anti-slavery poem by Edward Woodall entitled ‘The negro’s wrongs’ strongly criticising the ongoing practice of slavery in the United States, emphasising the conscious denial of education by the slave owners alongside the physical brutality they practised. Such inclusions hint at the beliefs and understanding of the adult society in which the children were brought up.(3)

The Lost Kingdom

The second example of juvenilia also demonstrates an awareness of a wider, diverse world with multiple histories. The Lost Kingdom, a ‘mocked-up’ historical adventure novel set around the time of the Spanish conquest of Peru, was created by C.M. Carter at St Margarets in West Runton, Norfolk (Carter gives the location more specifically as ‘the Den’). The 422 page handwritten novel, which includes several full-page watercolour illustrations, was completed on 25th June 1922. The novel was then hand-bound with black thread between two paste board covers with bright watercolour paintings on the top cover and spine.

The illustrated cover of a child's mock up of a novelFront cover of The Lost Kingdom, by C.M. Carter, c.1922, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 17192

The action-packed narrative is an epic Indiana Jones-style adventure, reflecting the contemporary derring-do of Boys’ Own type publications and adventure fiction written by authors such as John Buchan. In The Lost Kingdom, the ‘hero’ of the story, Mr Bernard Morgan (a widower and one of the early New World settlers who lived in ‘what was to become New York’) is summoned by a letter from a friend to come to the aid of the Incas under the threat of Spanish colonisation.

Much of the story is centred around the adventures of his daughter Stella, conveniently being looked after by a family in Peru at the start of the tale, who is later joined by her two brothers during their school holidays. Whilst the gender of the author remains unknown, the use of a prominent female character alongside the Morgans’ attempt to help the indigenous population against colonising forces seem remarkable for something of this date (even if their representation is somewhat muddled to modern eyes).

Illustration of ‘The Gorge of Death’: ‘Poor Stella was sent shooting from the back of the llama and hurtled into the fear-full dephs [sic] below…’, from The Lost Kingdom, by C.M. Carter, c.1922, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 17192

The way the story keeps going throughout the 400 or so pages is also remarkable, demonstrating the author’s dedication to the work. Subtle changes in the handwriting suggest Carter had a little help now and then: a more in-depth inspection of the item might tell us how much of a collaborative effort it was – was it a collaboration between friends or siblings, or perhaps something which drew on a mutually imagined ongoing adventure?

The main story ends on page 402 with the return of the Morgans to the United States. This is followed by several more pages with commentary on the First World War (The Great War as it was then called) and a poem on ‘The Fall of Peru’ – an interesting and somewhat unexplained juxtaposition, perhaps an effort on the part of the author to make some sense of both the contemporary world and its history.

These items of juvenilia offer an interesting mix of fact and fiction presented through young eyes in a medium that was both familiar and grown-up. In each case, while we are lucky to actually have their names and locations, we know a lot less about the authors than we do about Jane Austen. What links them and the Austen juvenilia together however is a determination to put pen to paper – to amuse as well as educate, and to share stories.

-Rachael Marsay

 


Footnotes

  1. Bodleian Libraries, MS. Don. e. 7. The volume is available to view on Digital Bodleian and more information can be found on the Jane Austen’s Fiction Manuscripts website.
  2. On 3rd April 1854, the paper noted a change in editors with J. Woodall taking over from S. Horn – perhaps a moving on or a falling out.
  3. It is likely that the Woodall family were clothiers: in an 1851 directory, a John Woodall is listed as a woollen draper and clothier in Mardol Head. Samuel Bagshaw, History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Shropshire (Sheffield, 1851).

A lot of pun? An early nineteenth-century book of conundrums

There are many different traditions associated with this time of year, not least the pulling of crackers on Christmas Day. And what cracker would be complete without a terrible joke?

A recent donation to the Bodleian Library included this manuscript volume, described in pencil on the inner flyleaf as containing ‘162 conundrums’ and dated as c.1814-1820. According to The Oxford Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, a conundrum is: A question asked for amusement, typically one with a pun in its answer; a riddle; a confusing and difficult problem or question.

Marbled front cover of a nineteenth century notebook

Early nineteenth-century book of conundrums, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 21625

This volume contains 162 questions or riddles, undoubtedly collected for amusement’s sake. The questions or riddles are written in several different hands which suggest the volume was passed round family and friends to add their own. The questions are numbered and listed at the front of the volume, and the answers are provided in a numbered list at the back of the volume. Unfortunately, there is no clue as to the identity of any of the contributors apart from a label on the front pasteboard which suggests that the notebook was bought from Martin Keene’s book and stationery shop in College Green, Dublin.

Inside of volume showing page of conundrums

Manuscript book of conundrums, showing questions 92-98, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 21625

List of answers inside manuscript book of conundrums

Manuscript book of conundrums, showing answers 40-104, Bodleian Libraries, MS. 21625

Here is a selection:

Why is a drawn tooth like a thing forgotten? Because it is out of the Head.

Why is a spectator like a beehive? Because he is a beholder.

What is the Elegy of a Turkey? Its Leg.

Why are the bucks and does in Windsor forest like the Queen? The King’s own deer.

Reading through the conundrums, it is somewhat reassuring to find that the tradition of sharing terrible puns is many centuries old! I wonder if this particular volume was ever passed around the family at Christmastime?


Female blacksmiths and natural daughters

Today I discovered exactly how compulsive family history research can be when I went down a census rabbit hole after finding records of what appeared to be a female blacksmith in the Bodleian’s archival collections.

The Bodleian holds the Barham family papers which came here with the extensive Clarendon family archive thanks to Lady Katherine, the Countess of Clarendon (1810-1874), who married the 4th Earl after the death of her first husband John Foster Barham, a Member of Parliament for the rotten borough of Stockbridge in Hampshire and the son of Joseph Foster Barham, a prominent Pembrokeshire landowner who also owned substantial numbers of slaves in Jamaica. [You can find slave inventories and estate accounts in the Barham Family Papers.]

Top half of a bill for blacksmithing costs owed by William Barham to Mary Hulbert, 1834, Clarendon Archive (Earls of the 2nd Creation), Bodleian Libraries

Top half of a bill for blacksmithing costs owed by William Barham to Mary Hulbert, 1834, Clarendon Archive (Earls of the 2nd Creation), Bodleian Libraries [click to enlarge]

The portion of 4th Earl of Clarendon’s papers which I am currently cataloguing, however, includes some additional Barham-related letters and papers such as this tantalising invoice of payments owed by William Barham, Lady Katharine’s brother-in-law, to Mary Hulbert, blacksmith. The invoice is a long list of work completed between April and November 1834, totalling £3 1s 1d, and is marked as unpaid.

Having learned five years ago that a woman smith worked on Blenheim Palace in 1708, I was particularly interested in the identity of this blacksmith: Mary Hulbert.

A plain search for Mary Hulbert on Ancestry produced a haystack’s worth of results, but I took a punt on the Stockbridge connection, and found that there was, indeed, a Mary Hulbert listed in the 1841 census in Stockbridge and that the Hulbert family included a blacksmith. But disappointing my hopes that she would be labelled a blacksmith in her own right, that blacksmith was her husband, George. And in fact, I soon found lower down the small stack of William Barham’s invoices (which include a bill for two nights away from home that tots up the cost of a bed, half a pint of best brandy, another bottle of brandy, and a bottle of gin) yet another 1834 blacksmith’s invoice, this one from…George Hulbert, also unpaid.

This was a useful reminder to always check related records before going down rabbit holes, but I was still curious about Mary Hulbert of Stockbridge, who, assuming she was the Mary Hulbert named on this invoice, was at the very least involved in her husband’s business. In fact, given that the jobs and dates on the two blacksmithing bills are different, it remains possible that Mary really was doing work on her own account, and more of it and at a greater value than George, whose bill only lists jobs on 29 May and 7 June 1834 worth the comparatively small sum of 4s 11d.

Interestingly, birth and marriage records show that Mary was 16 years older than her husband: he was 22 when they married in 1822, and she was 38. I wondered if perhaps Mary’s father had been a blacksmith and George Hulbert his apprentice, but in fact, no, a quick and dirty search suggests that her father Thomas Young was a maltster, while a 1784 Hampshire directory lists another George Hulbert as a blacksmith in Stockbridge, so it looks like smithing was the Hulbert family trade.

Although it seemed more than likely at this point, I still couldn’t be certain that the Mary and George Hulbert sending bills to William Barham were the Stockbridge Hulberts. I thought it would be worthwhile to have a look at William Barham’s records to see if he had a direct connection with the town, given that he himself was never Stockbridge’s MP.

And that’s where things got intriguing.

Continue reading

Ode to Life! Կենաց – ‘Songs for Christmas’

We are delighted to welcome this beautiful Artist’s Book of Christmas songs into the Bodleian’s collection after its eventful journey to reach the library.

Ode to Life! Կենաց – ‘Songs for Christmas’ has been created by Krikor Momdjian, who is an Armenian visual artist and poet living in the Netherlands. Krikor was one of the finalists in the Bodleian’s competition Redesigning the Medieval Book and this edition has been developed from the manuscript that he entered. He was inspired by an English medieval manuscript of carols in the Bodleian’s collection, which reminded him of the Armenian popular Christmas carols he sang in his youth and the chants he used to sing at Christmas Eve services in the Cathedral of Bethlehem when he was a young seminarian.  The Bodleian’s copy is one of a limited edition of five Leporellos especially meant for museums and unfolds to an impressive 22 metres long.

Krikor had very much wanted to travel from his home in the Netherlands to deliver the book in person but the pandemic meant that this was going to be impossible. He reluctantly decided to post the book and sent it soon after the end of the first national lockdown, but the library building was still closed and the courier was unable to deliver the package. Krikor feared the book might be lost and it took many weeks to slowly wend its way back to the anxious artist through locked down Europe. After the book finally arrived back in the Netherlands, Krikor posted it a second time and, with very fitting timing, this collection of joyous Christmas songs has it has at last made it the library.

Ode to Life! Կենաց – ‘Songs for Christmas’: Cosmological Relations between Colours, Forms and Numbers, reflects the essence of the message of Krikor’s artistic creations in images and words. It is above all a celebration of life in an attempt to bring us human beings near to the notion of the Divine. Life is cherished and celebrated in its constant renewal, an idea which is at the core of Krikor’s work and philosophy of life. The whole book is full of  ‘Songs for Christmas’, poems that came to Krikor in the English language, which he also then wrote down in Armenian (his mother tongue). He combined the poems with images (etchings, monotypes), revealing their interaction with colours and forms and numbers, reflecting the development of his philosophy as an artist over the forty years since he first settled in the Netherlands.

Our grateful thanks to Krikor for this wonderful Christmas gift to the library.

 

John Hungerford Pollen: Family

This is the last in a series of five blog posts to mark the bicentenary of John Hungerford Pollen whose archive has recently been acquired by the Bodleian Libraries.

This week’s blog posts on John Hungerford Pollen would not be complete without mentioning one very important aspect to Pollen’s life: his family. As we have seen, in September 1855, Pollen married Maria LaPrimaudaye in Woodchester Priory, Stroud, Gloucestershire. Maria was likewise interested in the decorative arts and, in later life, would become an expert in lace, publishing Seven centuries of lace in 1908. Maria looked back at their relationship a few years later and neatly summed up their characters:

I have often thought that my husband’s high-mindedness and singleness of purpose, together with a most resolute will, and almost incredible indifference to pain, discomfort or any of the minor troubles of life, clearly show the likeness to his Roman ancestor, just as my natural levity and high spirits and over-sensitiveness to trifles are excused, I hope, by my French descent. (1)

  J.H. Pollen, sketch of Maria Pollen, 10 Nov 1862, sketchbook (left) and photograph of Maria Pollen, n.d., by unknown photographer, photograph album (right), Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

In 1858, the Pollens moved to 11 Pembridge Crescent, Bayswater, which became their London home for the rest of their married life. They were to have ten children all together, two girls and eight boys (2):

  • Anne Gertrude Mary Pollen (1856-1934)
  • John Hungerford Pollen (1858-1925)
  • Walter Michael Hungerford Pollen (1859-1889)
  • Anthony Cecil Hungerford Pollen (1860-1940)
  • Francis Gabriel Hungerford Pollen (1862-1944)
  • George Charles Hungerford Pollen (1863-1930)
  • Margaret (‘Daisy’) Winifred Pollen (1864-1937)
  • Arthur Joseph Hungerford Pollen (1866-1937)
  • Stephen Hungerford Pollen (1868-1935)
  • Clement Hungerford Pollen (1869-1934)

The children frequently appear throughout Pollen’s sketchbooks, one of which is dedicated to ‘Babies 1866’.

    

J.H. Pollen, sketches of Francis Gabriel Hungerford Pollen (‘tell me about the wolf’), 22 April 1866 and Anthony Cecil Hungerford Pollen, 7 December 1866, sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

J.H. Pollen, sketch of Anne Gertrude Mary Pollen, 8 October 1876, sketchbooks, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

Between 1871 and 1875, to keep costs down, John and Maria decided to take their children abroad to be educated. They spent five years living in an old house in Munster, Westfalia, where the children could have a good Catholic primary education more cheaply than could be found in England. When the youngest child (Clement) was six years old, the family permanently moved back to England and divided their time between London and Newbuildings, the house in Sussex they rented from Pollen’s good friend Wilfred Scawen Blunt. Maria would look back very fondly to the happy and content years when all the family were together at Newbuildings:

…to my children love of home and all that that word means is signified by the word ‘Newbuildings’ and none other… (3)

Newbuildings Place, one mile north of Dragons Green, West Sussex, seen from the east, 2016, originally posted on Wikimedia Commons by Antiquary (CC BY 4.0)

Back in England, the boys went on to study at Newman’s Oratory School in Edgbaston, Birmingham. Pollen’s eldest son and namesake, John Hungerford, became a Jesuit priest and historian. He was asked to draw together the history of the order in England and is consequently credited with being a key person in the history of the order’s archives. His brothers Anthony Cecil and George Charles also entered the priesthood: Anthony became a noted composer and George, who had a keen interest in chemistry and geology, became a Fellow of the Geological Society.

Walter became a soldier and became ADC to Lord Ripon, Viceory of India between 1883 and 1884 (when Pollen was Lord Ripon’s private secretary). Walter became part of the Survey of India Department between 1884 and 1887, though he was invalided out due to fever. He returned to the east in 1888 and became Survey Officer to the Lushai Expedition in early 1889, but died of fever in Chittagong in March that year. Stephen likewise became a soldier and also served as ADC to two successive Viceroys in India (Lord Lansdowne and Lord Elgin) before serving in the South African campaign. Francis became a naval officer who fought in the war in Sudan between 1884 and 1885. He became part of the Naval Brigade in the Gordon Relief Expedition in Burma in 1886. Both Francis and Stephen retired in 1902, but returned to service during the First World War. Arthur struck out a different career to his siblings, training as a barrister and becoming a businessman, inventor and journalist. Anne, who published a memoir of her father in 1912, entered a religious community and became a nun.

J.H. Pollen, sketch of family at Newbuildings, 27 August 1880, sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

In the days before his death, Pollen celebrated his 82nd birthday together with his family in Pembridge Crescent, having lived long enough to see the foundation stone being laid for the new Victoria and Albert Museum over three years earlier.(4) Whilst Pollen’s career was certainly varied, his interest for art, design, and architecture never wavered and his steadfast commitment to his religious faith, his friendships, and his family never failed. The final word in his daughter Anne’s memoirs of her father was left to Sir George Birdwood:

From Anne Pollen, John Hungerford Pollen, 1820-1902 (London, 1912), p.388.

-Rachael Marsay


References

1) A note on Newbuildings by Maria Pollen, 1914, unpublished, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued.
2) According to Anne Pollen, a further child, the Pollen’s youngest son Benjamin Hungerford Pollen, died an infant in 1875. Anne Pollen, John Hungerford Pollen, 1820-1902 (London, 1912), p.372.
3) A note on Newbuildings by Maria Pollen, 1914
4) Anne Pollen, John Hungerford Pollen, p.369.

John Hungerford Pollen: Friendships

Today marks the bicentenary of John Hungerford Pollen’s birth. This is the fourth in a series of five blog posts to mark the bicentenary of John Hungerford Pollen whose archive has recently been acquired by the Bodleian Libraries.

One constant theme throughout John Hungerford Pollen’s life was the ease with which he made friends and the long term commitment that came with Pollen’s friendship. In return, Pollen was offered several life-changing opportunities and we have already seen in this blog series how John Henry Newman and William Makepeace Thackeray both influenced the direction of Pollen’s career. In today’s blog post, we will see how two other friendships changed the course of Pollen’s life.

George Frederick Samuel Robinson, 1st Marquess of Ripon and 3rd Earl de Grey, by George Frederic Watts, oil on canvas, 1895, NPG 1553 © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

In 1876, Pollen resigned his post at the South Kensington Museum when he was invited to become private secretary to Lord Ripon (1827-1909). Ripon was a fellow Catholic convert and became one of Pollen’s closest friends in later life. In 1880, Ripon was appointed Viceroy of India, a position he was to hold for four years. Though Pollen remained in London during most of this period, he visited India towards the end of the Viceroyalty in 1884. Whilst in India, Pollen commissioned exhibits for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886 and also advised the Maharaja of Kuch Behar [Cooch Behar] on the decoration of his palaces.

J.H. Pollen, sketches of Delhi, 17 November 1884 and of elephants, sketchbooks, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

In 1902, Lord Ripon wrote of Pollen:

To me, he was a very dear friend, whose association with me had made me intimately acquainted with all the qualities of his admirable character; so gentle, and yet where matters of principle were concerned so firm… so perfect a gentleman and so good a man, that he won not only the sincerest respect, but the truest affection of all who knew him. (1)

The poet and writer Wilfrid Scawen Blunt (1840-1922) was a longstanding friend of Pollen’s wife’s family, the LaPrimaudayes, having first made their acquaintance as a child in Italy in 1852; after his marriage to Maria LaPrimaudaye, Pollen also became one of Blunt’s good friends. Anne, Blunt’s wife, was the daughter of William King, 1st Earl of Lovelace, and the Hon. Augusta Ada Byron (the pioneering mathematician now known more familiarly as Ada Lovelace). The Blunts owned Newbuildings Place in Sussex and in 1875 they leased it to the Pollen family who had by now expanded their brood to ten children.

Sketch of Ashley Combe, Porlock, Somerset (house belonging to Ada Lovelace), 1851, sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

In 1886, Pollen became caught up with Blunt’s campaign for Home Rule in Ireland and when Blunt stood as a Liberal at Kidderminster, Pollen accompanied him during his election campaign (like Blunt’s other attempts to sit for Parliament, it was unsuccessful). Things were, however, to take a serious turn in October 1887 when Blunt chaired an anti-eviction meeting in Woodford in Galway which had been expressly banned by Arthur Balfour, the Irish chief secretary. Blunt was subsequently arrested and tried at Portumna, receiving a sentence of two month’s imprisonment with hard-labour. Pollen was there throughout the trial and Blunt would later remark that Pollen ‘was a very staunch friend to his friends’. (2)

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt by Alexander Bassano, albumen carte-de-visite, circa 1870, NPG x1375 © National Portrait Gallery, London (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The Pollens rented Newbuildings until 1889, when relations between the two families irretrievably broke down (Blunt’s daughter Judith had accused Pollen’s sixth son, Arthur Joseph Hungerford Pollen, of over-familiarity). Nevertheless, the friendship between Blunt and Pollen appears to have transcended even this disagreement.

J.H. Pollen, sketch of Newbuildings, May 1882, sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

Tomorrow’s blog post is the last in this series and will focus on those closest to Pollen: his family.

-Rachael Marsay


References

1) Anne Pollen, John Hungerford Pollen, 1820-1902 (London, 1912), p.325.
2) Ibid, p.346.

John Hungerford Pollen: Art, design, and architecture

This is the third in a series of five blog posts to mark the bicentenary of John Hungerford Pollen whose archive has recently been acquired by the Bodleian Libraries.

Pollen’s interest in architecture can be seen throughout his sketchbooks: here showing a sketch of Cefnamwlch House and garden, 2 October 1851 [above] and of Longleat from the garden, 14 September 1852 [below], Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

In 1857, John Hungerford Pollen moved to London with his small family (now consisting of his wife, Maria, and their eldest child, Anne Gertrude Mary, who was born the previous year). This was to prove crucial in Pollen’s burgeoning career in art, design, and architecture, encouraged by his uncle, Charles Robert Cockerell, the architect of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford.

In London, Pollen soon joined the newly formed Hogarth Club, founded by notable members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, which counted among its members Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, William Holman Hunt, and John Ruskin. Though the Hogarth Club was short lived, the friendships he made lasted throughout his life. Pollen’s daughter Anne sat for Burne-Jones and appears in his 1884 painting King Cophetua and the Beggar Maid.

Through John Ruskin, Pollen was commissioned in 1858 to design the carvings for the façade of the new University Museum of Natural History in Oxford. The museum’s founders and the architect, Benjamin Woodward, were inspired by the Pre-Raphaelite movement and employed some of the finest artists and craftsmen of the day to work on the building. In the summer of 1858, Ruskin also commissioned Pollen to work on the mural decoration of the Oxford Union library alongside fellow artists Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Edward Burne-Jones, and William Morris, depicting scenes from Arthurian myth.

John Hungerford Pollen’s original design for the main entrance, c.1860
© Oxford University Museum of Natural History

More commissions were to follow in the 1860s and 1870s, which proved very productive decades for Pollen. His association with the architect Benjamin Woodward continued when he designed rooms for James Anthony Lawson’s new house, Clontra, near Dublin and a picture gallery for the Marchioness of Ormonde at Kilkenny Castle. Among many other commissions, he also designed interiors at Blickling Hall, Aylsham for William Kerr, eighth Marquess of Lothian, and designed the fresco decoration at Alton Towers for the Earl of Shrewsbury.

Pollen’s knowledge and interest in art and design also led to his appointment as one of the jurors for the International Exhibition held in London in 1862. The following year, at the suggestion of his friend William Makepeace Thackeray, he was appointed by Sir Henry Cole as Assistant Keeper at the South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum), which had opened on the present site in 1857. As Assistant Keeper, Pollen produced catalogues of furniture, sculpture, and metalwork.(1) He also taught in the Government School of Design and submitted entries to the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Pollen’s daughter Anne would later write about his time at the South Kensington Museum in her biography:

…from 1864 until the last few years of his life, travelling became a duty. His connection with the South Kensington Museum necessitated an average of at least two yearly journeys for the acquisition of objects by purchase or loan; nor was he ever without one or more private commissions to furnish houses or rooms, to add to collections of china, to procure old hammered iron, tapestry, hangings, or what not; to give an opinion as to the authenticity of pictures, or their value…

He negotiated the removal of whole rooms, with their fittings and furniture, to South Kensington, or he procured casts of sculptures and mouldings, so that during the whole time of his connection with the museum it was increasing in representative completeness, and that at a money cost to the nation comparatively trifling.

He was acquainted with shops and dealers, private collectors, connoisseurs, of all nations; retaining an opinion that London was after all the best place for purchase, if you knew where to go. Hunting here and there, he was able to acquire easily many beautiful and valuable things. (2)

J.H. Pollen, various sketches of coats of arms and decorative carved devices, one labelled ‘SKM’ (South Kensington Museum), sketchbooks, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

Pollen continued to be internationally recognised in other ways: he was a juror for the International Exhibition in Dublin (1865) and also for the Exposition Universelle in Paris (1867), where he was awarded a gold medal for the first part of his ‘Universal catalogue of books on art’.

In 1876, Pollen resigned his post as Keeper at South Kensington Museum and embarked upon the next chapter of his varied career, which will be explored in tomorrow’s blog post.

-Rachael Marsay


References

1) A copy of John Hungerford Pollen’s Gold and Silver Smiths’ Work (South Kensington Museum Art Handbooks, London, 1879) is available to view online].

2) Anne Pollen, John Hungerford Pollen, 1820-1902 (London, 1912), p.308-309.

John Hungerford Pollen: Religion

This is the second in a series of five blog posts to mark the bicentenary of John Hungerford Pollen whose archive has recently been acquired by the Bodleian Libraries.

As we saw in yesterday’s blog post, John Hungerford Pollen became a Senior Proctor of the University of Oxford in 1851, having been a fellow at Merton College since 1842 and a Church of England priest since 1846.

Pollen had, however, become increasingly influenced by Tractarianism and the Oxford Movement, a cause championed by many members of the Church of England to return to many of the older traditions and reform the Anglican liturgy. Such thinking was hotly contested at the time. For many, it came dangerously close to Catholicism and many priests risked losing their livings (it was only in 1829 that the Roman Catholic Relief Act had been passed in Parliament to allow Catholics to become MPs). Pollen soon became associated with one of the leading figures of the Oxford Movement, Edward Bouverie Pusey (1800-1882), a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford. In the summer of 1847, Pollen travelled around France with a couple of Oxford friends to examine the role of the Roman Catholic church in bringing faith and hope to the poor; they went on to Italy and Germany and Pollen assiduously studied the architecture of churches in Ravenna and the new basilica of St Boniface in Munich.

In 1847, Pollen also became pro-vicar at the new St Saviour Church in Leeds (the building of which was anonymously funded by Pusey) during an interregnum after the vicar there was accused of Romanism and forced to resign: three curates had also left and fully converted to Roman Catholicism. The use of auricular confession during Pollen’s time there sparked further controversy which ended up with Pollen and his colleagues being banned from holding the Christmas Eve service in 1850. Whilst the ban led to the conversion of Pollen’s colleagues, Pollen instead argued his case with the Bishop and was reinstated. In 1851, he published Narrative of Five Years at St. Saviour’s, Leeds, defending Tractarianism and the use of Catholic practices within the Church of England, writing that ‘The working of St. Saviour’s was an attempt to give a practical solution to questions of inexpressible interest to some of us at the present time’. The Narrative also described the harsh and unforgiving living conditions of the working class poor, among whom there had been a serious cholera epidemic in 1849.

Title page of John Hungerford Pollen’s Narrative of Five Years at St. Saviour’s, Leeds (1851), Bodleian Libraries, reference (OC) 141.c.80

The Narrative and the events it described was nonetheless a prelude to Pollen’s own conversion and he was received into the Roman Catholic Church in Rouen on 20th October 1852. This was a big step to take as it meant he had to forfeit his fellowship at Merton and his other university offices. For Pollen, however, it was undoubtedly the right step, as he wrote to a friend:

Every doubt is at rest, and I have found that kind of calm which one needs repose and reflection to enjoy in full. I cannot tell you how great an advantage I think it to have been able to do this out of England. (1)

Pollen’s elder brother, Hungerford, became a Catholic the following year. Both brothers were consequently disinherited by their uncle Sir John Walter Pollen, 2nd Bart, of Redenham, Hampshire. Whilst Hungerford still inherited the baronetcy, in Sir John’s will dated 16th April 1862, he made membership of the Church of England a necessary condition for the inheritance of his estate. So, after the death of Sir John’s widow in 1877, Redenham was inherited by Hungerford’s son (also named Richard Hungerford Pollen, 1846-1918).

J.H. Pollen, view of Redenham, Hampshire, 21 February 1851, from sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

At this point, therefore, Pollen had neither career (as he had decided not to take orders) nor inheritance prospects. After his conversion, he travelled to Rome where he became acquainted with the writer William Makepeace Thackeray as well as the LaPrimaudaye family who were also recent converts to the Catholic Church. Despite his lack of prospects (and a seventeen year age gap), Pollen became engaged to Maria Margaret LaPrimaudaye (1838–1919) in 1854 and they were married on 18th September 1855 in the church of Woodchester monastery, near Stroud, Gloucestershire.

J.H. Pollen, sketch of Maria Pollen, 23 October 1862, from sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

Through his new connection with the LaPrimaudayes, Pollen received an offer from John Henry Newman (1801-1890) in November 1854 to become professor of fine arts at Newman’s new university in Dublin. Another leading figure in the Oxford Movement, John Henry Newman had likewise been a fellow of Oriel College, Oxford and was vicar of St Mary’s University Church before he was received into the Catholic Church in 1845. Cardinal Newman (as he became in 1879) was to become one of Pollen’s great friends and correspondents.

Letters to J.H. Pollen from J.H. Newman, 1855-1885, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

Newman also asked Pollen to design the university church near St Stephen’s Green, Dublin. Newman wrote to Pollen on Christmas Eve 1854:

As to the decoration of an University Church, of which you kindly speak, we must have a Church, temporary or permanent, and it must be decorated – and I should be very much obliged for your assistance in the decoration.(2)

Unlike Pugin and the contemporary desire for Gothic-style churches, Pollen favoured a Byzantine style for the university church, which was consecrated on Ascension Day, 1 May 1856.

Photograph of Newman University Church Interior, Dublin, Ireland by David Iliff, License CC BY-SA 3.0 and originally posted to wikimedia

In 1857, Pollen and his family moved to London. The move would further stimulate his career in art, design, and architecture, which is the subject of tomorrow’s blog post.

-Rachael Marsay


References

1) Anne Pollen, John Hungerford Pollen, 1820-1902 (London, 1912), p.235.
2) Charles Stephen Dessain (ed.), The Letters and Diaries of John Henry Newman, Vol. 16: Founding a University: January 1854 to September 1855, (Oxford, 1965), p.332.

John Hungerford Pollen: Early years and Oxford

This is the first in a series of five blog posts to mark the bicentenary of John Hungerford Pollen whose archive has recently been acquired by the Bodleian Libraries.

‘Photograph of John Hungerford Pollen 1885 [aged 65] made by his wife [Maria Pollen]’, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

he wears a beard, like other men of genius‘ (1)

John Hungerford Pollen was a talented artist and author with a particular interest in art, design, and architecture: he was an active and formative developer of the collections in his role as Assistant Keeper at what is now the V&A. However, his career was not a straightforward one, having trained and practiced as a Church of England priest before his conversion to Roman Catholicism. His social circle was wide and varied, counting John Henry Newman as much as a friend as fellow Pre-Raphaelite artists and literary celebrities such as Wilfred Scawen Blunt and William Makepeace Thackeray. One of his friends later in life was his employer and fellow convert Lord Ripon, Viceroy of India. At home, he was also very much the family man, being father to ten children.

John Hungerford Pollen was born on 19th November 1820 at 6 New Burlington Street in London, the second son of Richard Pollen (1786–1838) and his wife, Anne Cockerell (1784–1865). He was educated at Durham House, Chelsea and Eton College before he went up to study at Christ Church, Oxford. After taking his BA in 1842, he became a fellow of Merton College and would go on to become (at various points) dean, bursar, and garden master there. After a year or so of travelling with his elder brother Hungerford (Richard Hungerford Pollen, 1815-1881) in the Middle East, he was ordained as a deacon in 1845 and became a curate at St Peter-le-Bailey in Oxford before being ordained as a priest by the Bishop of Oxford, Dr Samuel Wilberforce, in June 1846.

J.H. Pollen, watercolour of his room at Merton, 17 September 1851, from sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

During his curacy at St Peter-le-Bailey, Pollen employed his artistic skill in designing a decorative scheme for the ceiling of the church (sadly, it has not survived as the church was demolished in 1872 when the road was widened). Pollen would go on to design and paint the ceiling of the chapel in Merton College between 1849 and 1850. Whilst lilies were a prominent theme, he also included images of angels, prophets, and church fathers, drawing inspiration from his friends and family. Permission was granted for him to extend the scheme and paint the upper part of the walls of the chapel a few years later, in 1877.

J.H. Pollen, watercolour of Merton college chapel, 25 June 1850, from sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

J.H. Pollen, studies of lilies (presumably for the decoration of Merton Chapel ceiling), 16 July 1850, from sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

Pollen became a Senior Proctor of the University of Oxford in 1851 and, in different circumstances, might have gone on to live a long and settled life within the climes of Oxford. However, by this point his time at Oxford was drawing to a close, as we shall discover in tomorrow’s blog post.

J.H. Pollen, view of Oxford from the river with Iffley church and rectory foreground left and Tom Tower, Christ Church, mid-distance right, 11 October 1851, from sketchbook, Bodleian Libraries, Pollen archive, currently uncatalogued

-Rachael Marsay


References

1) John Henry Newman quoted in Anne Pollen, John Hungerford Pollen, 1820-1902 (London, 1912), p.275.